But in recent years, its existence in the park has been hard to document, tied only to a few paw prints and DNA coaxed from scat and hairs. Now park biologists have a photograph to add to their evidence.
Fred Paulsen, a Xanterra Parks & Resorts concessions employee who has worked in Yellowstone for roughly 24 years, encountered the tuft-eared carnivore in late November while driving between the Norris Geyser Basin and Mammoth Hot Springs. He initially thought the animal in the middle of the road was perhaps a mountain lion, or maybe a bobcat. But later, when reviewing his photographs, he realized what he had come upon.
"It was big, about the size of a German shepherd," Mr. Paulsen told the Billings Gazette.
The fact that the lynx was wearing a radio collar led biologists to speculate that it probably came north from Colorado, where more than 200 collar-wearing lynx were released between 1999 and 2006 in an effort to repopulate the state with the species.
Before Colorado began working with lynx recovery, Wyoming was thought to contain the southernmost natural habitat for the cats. Key to the animal's existence is coniferous forests that support thick undergrowth treasured by the lynx's preferred winter prey -- snowshoe hares. Unfortunately, logging, development, and increased backcountry access have conspired to make western Wyoming's habitat fairly marginal when it comes to snowshoe hares and, as a result, lynx.
Indeed, the last two lynx tracked via radio-collar by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department starved to death -- a female turned up dead in March 2000 while a male died in February 2003.
Things weren't always so bleak for lynx in Wyoming. During the winter of 1971-72 trappers came out of the Wyoming Range with 18 lynx.